Kate Chopin's Short Stories Suggested Essays
by Kate Chopin
Suggested Essay Questions
How does Chopin explore female sexuality in her stories?
Answer: Chopin often places her female protagonists in the position of having sexual desires that seem illicit because they do not follow the established moral standards of their society. A good answer will draw on this theme using several examples. For example, in "A Respectable Woman," we can read Mrs. Baroda as initially suppressing her desire to pursue an extramarital affair with Gouvernail, but ultimately deciding to satisfy her desires. In "The Kiss," Nathalie faces less of a dilemma in that she tries to obtain both respectability and romance, but she finds that she cannot obtain both simultaneously. In both cases, the women choose to ignore societal norms in favor of achieving their own goals. Note that in these cases, female sexuality is tied with the theme of what is deemed appropriate in heterosexual marriage according to the society these women inhabit.
Discuss the theme of autonomy and independence in Chopin's short stories.
Answer: The protagonists in Chopin's stories face barriers from all directions, and they tend to be imposed by societal norms, sometimes imposed by others, and sometimes internalized as inner conflicts. Again, a good answer will provide several examples. The barriers can be economic, as in "A Pair of Silk Stockings," marital, as in "The Story of an Hour," or mental, as in "Beyond the Bayou." Race, class, and gender norms all tend to limit autonomy and independence. In particular, the women of these stories struggle in various ways to resist their boundaries, and their success is mixed. In "Beyond the Bayou," the woman in question overcomes her limitations through the precipitating event of a crisis, but the heroines in stories such as "The Story of an Hour" find that reality ultimately surpasses their ability to rebel.
How does Chopin portray the Old South in her short stories?
Answer: In general, the author uses two approaches to rendering the world of antebellum Louisiana. In the first scenario, Chopin explores its memory in terms of those who lost their childhoods in the war, as in the case of Ma'ame Pélagie, for whom the Old South was the source of her youth and whose loss affected the rest of her life. In the second situation, Chopin chooses to depict this era from the viewpoint of the people who suffered from the social troubles of that world. "Désirée's Baby" is the clearest example of this theme, since the story explores the destructive implications of racial bias.
Discuss the motif of springtime in Chopin's short stories.
Answer: In Chopin's works, a springtime setting generally indicates life and rebirth, although its specific implication differs from story to story. In "The Locket," the beautiful spring day is emphasized and contrasted with the mourning and despair faced by Octavie, and it eventually serves as foreshadowing for the unexpected revelation that Edmond has survived the war. In "The Story of an Hour," the main male character also turns out to be alive, but the idea of spring is used to predicate Louise Mallard's rebirth and independence rather than the status of her husband. Ironically, when he returns, she dies, and the springtime environment becomes ironic rather than symbolic of reality.
What role does female identity play in Chopin's stories?
Answer: During the era in which Kate Chopin was writing, women often lacked the legal and societal rights that allowed them to claim an identity independent of that of their husbands or fathers. Many of the women are referred to solely by their married names, indicating that their status has somehow been defined merely by marriage. In "A Pair of Silk Stockings," for example, Mrs. Sommers was once an affluent woman but has been driven into poverty by her marriage and children. Her attempt to reclaim her old identity through the purchase of luxury items is ultimately unsuccessful in changing the status quo, but she is able for an afternoon to think of herself first rather than prioritizing her family.
How does Chopin characterize romantic love in her works?
Answer: In "The Locket," romantic love is an expression of the potential of youth and a motif through which Chopin can explore the effects of the Civil War on an entire generation. In contrast, in many cases, Chopin characterizes love as less important than other emotions and drives. In "The Story of an Hour," Louise Mallard admits that she loves her husband but feels guiltless for recognizing that his death means her freedom, and Chopin depicts her revelation in a highly sympathetic manner. In addition, in "Désirée's Baby," the lack of Armand's love drives Désirée to an implied suicide more thoroughly than her lack of status.
Given Chopin's focus on the lives of women, how does she characterize the men in her stories?
Answer: Although Armand Aubigny of "Désirée's Baby" is portrayed as a cold and unsympathetic husband, many of the men in Chopin's stories are portrayed as harmless and loving. Yet, their apparently mild and amiable personalities are treated as relatively unimportant when compared to the psychologies and shifting desires of the protagonists who are their wives. Of all the men, only Edmond of "The Locket" can be described as a true protagonist, and Gouvernail of "A Respectable Woman" is the only man who shows much understanding of the sensual needs of women (and of Mrs. Baroda in particular).
Examine Chopin's use of visual motifs in her stories.
Answer: Chopin often uses visual motifs to convey symbolically the overarching ideas of her stories. For instance, in "Beyond the Bayou," La Folle treats the line of the bayou as a physical, visual, and mental division between her limited world and the unknown area outside of which she is afraid. When she crosses the bayou, she breaks that visual line in order to show her newfound freedom. In "Désirée's Baby," the imagery of black and white underlines much of the story and is used to foreshadow the eventual revelation of Armand Aubigny's heritage.
Analyze Chopin's use of foreshadowing in her short stories.
Answer: Chopin often uses variations of this literary device to lay subtle groundwork for plot twists and revelations that occur near the end of her tales. In the case of "Désirée's Baby," Chopin hints through her comparisons of Désirée's whiteness and Armand's darkness that Armand rather than Désirée has the African ancestry. Meanwhile, the clues in "The Locket" are more subtle, as the silent, barely mentioned fourth man at the beginning of the story proves to be the one who died instead of Edmond. "Beyond the Bayou" also uses foreshadowing through the technique of setting up a parallel between the traumatizing events of La Folle's past and the event in the story that brings her back to sanity.
Identify the characteristics that Chopin appears to value in her protagonists.
Answer: Because Chopin often writes about ordinary women who are faced with various forms of inner conflict, her stories focus primarily on the mental traits and psychology of her main characters. The author generally treats even the most perverse or outwardly unconscionable thoughts of her protagonists with sympathy, as in "The Story of an Hour" or "A Respectable Woman." These women are valued not because they have unerring moral compasses but because they dare to reach beyond the dictates of society and because they are able to come to personal understanding of their desires. They tend to value freedom and autonomy and to work for self-realization. While it is difficult to infer Chopin's intent from her treatment of various characters (whose motivations sometimes lead to horror and death), we can at least say that Chopin found something worth exploring in these uncharacteristically strong female characters.
Kate Chopin's Short Stories Essays and Related Content
- Kate Chopin's Short Stories: Major Themes
- Kate Chopin's Short Stories: Essays
- Kate Chopin's Short Stories: E-Text
- Kate Chopin's Short Stories: Questions
- Kate Chopin's Short Stories: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Kate Chopin: Biography
- Kate Chopin's Short Stories Summary
- About Kate Chopin's Short Stories
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of "The Story of an Hour"
- Summary and Analysis of "Beyond the Bayou"
- Summary and Analysis of "Ma'ame Pélagie"
- Summary and Analysis of "Désirée's Baby"
- Summary and Analysis of "A Respectable Woman"
- Summary and Analysis of "The Kiss"
- Summary and Analysis of "A Pair of Silk Stockings"
- Summary and Analysis of "The Locket"
- The Historical Context of Kate Chopin's Short Stories
- Related Links on Kate Chopin's Short Stories
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources